Photo by Gaby Meis.
If you ask Bruno Brokken, USPA #96017, if he really is “the nicest guy in all of skydiving,” he responds with, “I know Rich [Grimm] said that, and it’s only because I got him onto the cover of Parachutist.” As an incredibly well-traveled and prolifically published photographer, Brokken has captured the skies of Austria, Belgium, Belize, Dubai, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, U.K. and more. He is also a longtime competitor and has flown camera on multiple world record jumps, and in 2020 the International Skydiving Hall of Fame recognized his accomplishments with his induction into the organization. His love for skydiving continues to drive him to stay active in the sport, with several future projects in the works.
Birthplace: Ath, Belgium
Marital Status: In a relationship with Gaby Meis since 1993
Education: High school, then skydiving got in the way.
Hobbies: Music (playing keyboard/piano)
Favorite Food: Shrimp pasta, Thai food, Belgian food and beer
Sponsors: Airtec, Larsen & Brusgaard, Performance Designs, Sun Path Products and Vertigen Fly
Container: Sun Path Javelin
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Spectre 135, Performance Designs Sabre3 135
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum 160
AAD: Airtec CYPRES
Disciplines: In the past, formation skydiving, canopy formation skydiving, freestyle camera and canopy piloting. Now it’s all camera flying.
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Empuriabrava in Spain
Year of First Jump: 1980
Total Number of Jumps: 27,000-plus
Wingsuit: 10 (Patrick de Gayardon´s design in the ‘90s)
Largest completed formation: Camera flyer on the FS 400-way and CFS 100-way
Total Number of Cutaways: Four cutaways but seven reserve rides. My last one was 20,000 jumps ago (touching wood right now ... ).
Does one jump stand out most?
It’s impossible to choose just one; I’ve had many unforgettable jumps at crazy locations like the North Pole, Grand Canyon, Great Blue Hole and more. But I’ll never forget my first jump, a static-line skydive from a little Cessna 172 at 1,500 feet.
What do you like most about the sport?
Skydiving made the world a small place for me. Thanks to skydiving, I’ve been able to travel around a lot and make friends all over the world! It made me realize that there are great people in every single country—in general, I really think there are fewer a**holes in skydiving than in the “normal” world.
What do you like least about the sport?
Accidents, especially when they are totally avoidable. Also, the few a**holes.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Early on, Michel Van Beirs, my first instructor, and also Mitch Decoteau at Empuriabrava. I never really had a mentor for camerawork, but I learned a lot by looking at the work of camera flyers like Norman Kent, Tom Sanders, Patrick Passe, Ray Cottingham, Mike McGowan, Max Dereta and others.
What safety item do you think is most often neglected?
What is your favorite jump plane and why?
The 1968 “Mike Zulu” Pilatus Porter in Empuriabrava. It’s more of an emotional thing, because that plane was already in Empuriabrava when I first got here back in 1987. Not sure how many jumps I’ve done out of that plane, but it’s a lot.
Any advice for new skydivers?
Relax and have fun. Don’t give up, even if you struggle at the beginning. Later on, jump with canopies you feel comfortable with. Only downsize when you’re really ready. Have fun, but always take care of the little things. There can be danger on routine jumps, and it can be hidden in some corner, especially when you get complacent. Did I mention to have fun?
Someday I am going to own …
A Steinway & Sons grand piano.
Is there one jump you’d like to make again?
I would love to jump into the Grand Canyon again. Some 10 years ago, I was there with “Jetman” Yves Rossy. He had special permission to do a flight there with his jetwing, and I had to jump before him to test the winds at altitude and landing conditions. The jump was just after sunrise, and the light and view were just incredible. After landing at the bottom (5,000 feet down), I had to radio up what the winds were like (it was perfect), but for about 15 minutes after that, I was there all alone with the amazing view. The only noise was the Colorado River—that is, until the helicopter showed up with Yves, and then there was the sound of those jet engines in the valley.
Suggestions for USPA:
Keep fun jumping possible. It shouldn’t be allowed that some places are only accessible for tandems. If things keep going that way, where will the drop zones get their new tandem instructors from in the long run?
Best skydiving moment?
When I managed to save British skydiver George Pilkington during the 1990 Belgian Hercules Boogie. George got knocked out because of a premature opening of a fellow skydiver right after exit (these were the pre-AAD days for the majority of sport jumpers). I got to him and pulled his main.
Greatest competition moment?
The 1992 freestyle world meet with Marco Manna at Skydive Arizona in Eloy. This was our first competition. We went there to learn as much as possible and to understand the rules better, and to our surprise, we went home with the gold medal!
Explain Bruno in five words or fewer:
Hard to answer this myself, so I asked some friends: honest, ambitious, determined (once I make up my mind), creative, helpful.
What advice do you have for new camera flyers who want to take it seriously?
Try to learn from every jump, even if it’s only a simple or routine jump. Get advice from more experienced camera flyers about gear and technique. Show them your photos and videos, and ask what you can do to improve. Get a parachute that is known for reliable openings: Hard openings are never fun, but are even less so with camera gear on your head.
What has been your motivation for skydiving all these years?
It is just an incredible, evolving sport with amazing people. And having the chance to see so many places from a different perspective than most people (for example, the Great Pyramids at Giza).
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
As a camera flyer, all we do really is capture short moments in time, but for some people, that means a lot. it can be a first jump, a personal record, a world record, a special event or a special memory—you name it. I hope that with my pictures and videos over the years I made (and still make) people happy.